Study targets Atlantic Street area


Staff Writer

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Rocky Mount municipal official and his team have been working on a master document to help guide city leaders, developers, landowners and residents when development proposals come forward for the Atlantic Avenue-Arlington Street corridor.

City Planning Administrator JoSeth Bocook provided information about a land use study of the corridor to the Rocky Mount Planning Board on Aug. 13 and to the Rocky Mount City Council at a marathon work session on Aug. 26.

The document presently is in draft form and the goal is for the planning board and the council to have public hearings before approving a final document.

The force behind the process for the study was the construction of the Rocky Mount Event Center, located just west of Atlantic, and the anticipated development pressure in the vicinity of the facility.

The process for the study has been ongoing since early last year, with residents providing Bocook and his team feedback about what they see for the Atlantic-Arlington corridor in the future. A couple of different consulting firms assisted and an ad hoc steering committee, called the Community Academy, also assisted.

The draft document focuses on a study area along and close to Atlantic south from U.S. 64 to Tarboro Street, where Atlantic becomes Arlington, and along and close to Arlington south of Tarboro to East Raleigh Boulevard.

What resulted in the Atlantic-Arlington draft document is an extensive list of goals, strategies and recommendations.

The document focuses on key topics, specifically land use and zoning, urban design, housing, transportation and public facilities, and infrastructure.

“The overarching vision that we came up with was that the Atlantic-Arlington corridor is the principal place within Rocky Mount for equitable development, business and housing opportunities and the foremost destination for African-American heritage tourism,” Bocook told the council.

Bocook also said the draft document identifies many targeted areas with similar characteristics within the corridor where objectives would be designed to enhance existing conditions there.

He told the council one of the first points dealt with in the study process was land use and zoning.

He said the goal is to develop regulations providing flexibility while preserving residential neighborhoods, supporting commercial development and encouraging mixed use development.

He said the process included going into detail to make sure the local land development code and existing regulations allow for preservation and development.

He said in instances where they do not, the draft document calls for revising the code, which would require approval by the planning board and the council.

As far as the urban design part of the study, he said the draft document calls for enhancing the corridor through promoting development standards enriching what is there and inspiring economic and social vitality.

Bocook went on to state the process included looking at housing, with a goal of improving the housing supply and ensuring available housing for a diversity of residents.

Bocook said one of the prime concerns expressed during the public input phase was about safe and affordable housing while preserving the existing character of neighborhoods.

Bocook also said the plan is to review and seek amendments to the land development code standards that may be a barrier to increasing the supply of affordable housing.

As far as the transportation part of the study, he said the draft document calls for a network enhanced for safety and including improved pathways for pedestrians, bicyclists, mass transit drivers and motorists.

Bocook said as far as the public facilities and infrastructure part of the study, the draft document calls for providing adequate, affordable, convenient and modern services.

Councilwoman Chris Miller recalled local corridor studies done long ago. Miller wanted to know what is done with such documents or whether they end up on a shelf without the city budgeting for improvements.

“We do, in these documents, make recommendations — and these plans are used as a guide for the planning board and council to make a decision when development proposals come forward,” Bocook said.

Bocook summed up his response about plans and studies with a comparison about a family planning to go to Walt Disney World Resort on a vacation in the coming weeks.

“It’s not a plan in that regard,” Bocook said. “It’s a plan that says, ‘Yeah, we hope to be able to go to Disney World and when the resources are available, this is the way we’ll see our way there.’”

“So, it’s kind of a vision or a suggestion, but it doesn’t have any teeth in it,” Miller said.

“I wouldn’t say that because when things are proposed to happen, these are the teeth that say, ‘This is how it needs to be done,’” Bocook said.

During subsequent council discussion, Councilman Reuben Blackwell picked up on Miller’s questioning.

Blackwell said he believes there needs to be clarity along the lines of, “If we adopt this, ‘What are the next steps — and some type of timeline — that accompanies what the steps are and opportunities for more engagement from the public about how we make this vision come to reality?’”

The draft document is available online at https://www.rockymountnc.gov/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=15905036.